The very best pizzas are made in wood-fired brick ovens, where the intense heat and the aromatic smoke produce conditions that cannot be matched in ordinary electric or gas-fired ovens. The pizzas are pushed deep into the hottest part of the oven on wooden paddles, the dough exploding into life as it hits the red-hot brick to cook in two or three minutes, not something most of us can duplicate. However, this not to say that you can't make good pizzas or focaccia (olive oil bread) at home.
At the Orvieto cooking school in Umbria, where I teach each summer, I had a lesson in pizza making from a man who had been cooking pizzas all his life. What impressed me was the simplicity of the dough, which had very little oil in it, and the fact that his tomato topping was commercially produced passata used straight from the packet He cooked them in an outdoor wood-fired oven and the results were sensational, the crust pliant but crisp underneath, the best I have ever tasted.
The chef Wolfgang Puck pioneered new-wave pizza in Los Angeles some ten years ago, with combination toppings of things like smoked salmon and cream cheese. Overnight he turned America’s staple into something fashionable and expensive. The imitators moved fast on the heels of the innovator, and Californian restaurants vied with one another to create chic and unusual toppings, many of them frankly bizarre.
I prefer the most basic versions, notably the original Neapolitan pizza margharita of cheese, tomato and basil. Here we use only the very best buffalo Mozzarella, with the tomato skinned and diced and served with basil leaves as a side salad.